Friday, April 19, 2013

I Don't Know What to Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians Series
You've probably heard it from your kids a million times. "There's nothing to eat!"  Occasionally, it may be an accurate estimate of the household food stores and mean trip to the grocery store.  Usually, it is an exaggeration.  "I can't find anything to eat, " is a more likely scenario in your house.  As you know, a little effort paired with a sense of adventure can postpone an unnecessary shopping trip.  There are parallels when it comes to reading.  When your child groans about being unable to find a book, it may be because she doesn't know where or how to look.

The International Reading Association enumerates a number of strategies that you can use to help your child find a great read.  To get started, determine your child's purpose for reading.  Is it for entertainment?  Research?  Is she looking for fiction?  How about an autobiography?  Once the reason is understood, give her an opportunity to browse.  This could be at the bookstore, the library, or even the bookshelves in your home.  In a library or a bookstore, take the time to explain how books are organized.  If you are unsure, ask - it will save time and frustration.  After she has gathered a number of titles, don't be afraid to say "yes."  A book that may seem too simple, too short, or have too many pictures could be the perfect hook for a reluctant reader.  In fact, graphic novels are an excellent way to entice your child to read.  At the same time, allow your child to abandoned a book she doesn't like.  With thousands of great titles to choose from, why should she waste her time reading a book she doesn't enjoy?  Keep in mind that reading requires commitment, however.  Unlike our passive interaction with TV and movies, a novel demands more.  I like the 50 page rule.  If, after 50 pages, I don't like the book, I reserve the right to put it down and never look at it again.  I expect the same of my students.  Additionally, encourage your child to talk to her teachers, her librarian, and her classmates.  Everyone has a book they would love to share!  As an extra resource, I have added every book that has been 'commercialed' by a student to a shelf on Shelfari.  You can find it on the bottom of my blog and linked on Edmodo as well.

Finally, take a moment to enjoy this video about book selection put out by Next Vista for Learning.  Happy reading!

photo credit: Pesky Library via photopin cc

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lemon-Scented Furniture Polish and Driveway Sealer

I am from Pine-Sol,
From lemon-scented furniture polish and driveway sealer.
"Where I'm From," the famous poem written by George Ella Lyon, is a tribute to all that makes us who we are.  From the mundane to crazy family stories, the poem is based on lists of ideas:  family names, specific foods or meals, family games and activities, nostalgic songs, oft repeated phrases, ordinary household items, religious experiences, and the places where family momentos are stored.  Composition students worked diligently to brainstorm the things that make them unique and to put words to their memories.  Then, they viewed Lyon's original poem along with a student-written example.  They analyzed each poem for meaning and looked for similarities and differences between the two.  Even more closely, students looked for sensory details and concrete examples, and paid particular attention to formatting and punctuation.  Finally, the kids were challenged to use the two poems as mentor texts to help them craft their own.  After conferring with me and participating in peer response, students began to type their pieces on Google Docs.  After some additional revision next week, the "Where I'm From" poems should be ready for publication.

Athena, the Greek goddess, is often associated with wisdom and war.  In fact, one of her symbols is the owl, an ageless representation of intelligence.  What is less known about Athena is her talent for weaving and the pride she took in her ability to spin thread.  A mortal by the name of Arachne, shared the same talent.  Because of her ability to weave incredible tapestries, many thought she was apprenticed to Athena.  This she denied.  Furthermore, Arachne had the audacity to claim that her work was superior to that of the goddess.  The boast raised the ire of Athena, and she descended from Mt. Olympus to challenge Arachne to a weaving contest.  The mortal fearlessly entered the competition confident that she would emerge victorious.  Both women created beautiful tapestries, but Arachne's mocked the gods.  With a vengeful fury, Athena cursed Arachne.  For all eternity, Arachne would be doomed to spin thread - as a spider!  Throughout the study of Greek mythology, literature students have been exploring how the stories were frequently used to explain not only the human condition, but nature as well.  Without extensive science and technology, these stories helped the ancient culture make sense of their world.  The influence of mythology continues today, as the scientific term for a spider is ... arachnid!

photo credit: misterjt via photopin cc
photo credit: jonycunha via photopin cc

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring (or something) is in the Air!

Welcome back from Spring Break!  I hope your time was productive, enjoyable, and most importantly, relaxing.  While it may not feel like Spring in Wisconsin quite yet, the kids are definitely rejuvenated.  With two months of school left, it will be extremely important to direct their newfound energy toward school.  The increase in daylight and temperature often leads to restlessness and distraction, and I'm not just talking about myself!  

I have noticed a marked increase in self-selected reading.  And I'm not the only one.  Mrs. Eppelsheimer has commented on the amount of traffic in the Middle School Library.  She feels that she has rarely seen more sixth graders reading and looking for books.  We couldn't be more pleased.  In fact, one student remarked how she found herself frequently buried in her book during Spring Break.  No, she wasn't stuck here in Wisconsin - she was in Hawaii!  I encourage you to continue to support your children as they read for pleasure.  Even with the improving weather, time should be set aside for reading.  This should be a no strings attached activity, done with regular frequency.  Maybe you could curl up with your own book in the same room as your child.  Reading together and having conversations about your books is time well spent.  It is a great opportunity to set an example and to cut back on some screen time.  

What about writing?  How can you encourage your child to write without pushing her away?  The National Council of Teachers of English offers a few suggestions.  As with reading, letting your child see you write is powerful.  She will see writing as something that is not just done for school, and it will take on more relevancy.  How about sharing a letter or an email that you are drafting and asking your child for advice?  This could inspire a thoughtful conversation about your personal process for writing as well as reinforce that you respect your child's opinion.  Often, I am asked how parents can help with their child's writing.  The NCTE recommends taking on the role of helper.  Ask him what he wants to say, and help him put words to his ideas.  If she wants specific assistance, provide it, but be careful.  Refrain from criticizing her writing.  This could increase her resistance to sharing her work with you in the future.  By taking on the role of coach and captive audience, you are far more likely to gain your young author's trust.  Like reading, set aside regular time for writing beyond the classroom.  Encourage your child to keep travel logs, journals, or writer's notebooks and maybe even start one yourself!

There is no doubt that having recess, playing sports, and enjoying the outdoors is good for the physical and emotional health of all children.  With the weather beckoning everyone outdoors, reading and writing are often relegated to the bottom of our priorities.  Don't forget to make time for yourselves and your children to enjoy a good book or to write a letter to a loved one.  It's a great way to wind down a long day and a perfect opportunity to 'power down.'